Rolling Thunder surprised me in a good way. Often I find that revenge exploitation films are a bit too much for me in terms of the violence. I know, I basically run a horror blog, and I’m obsessed with martial arts films, but you know the type of blood-soaked 70s films I’m talking about, and they’re not usually my thing. This one, however, was pure badassery. Also, it was quite understated, which is not what I expect at all from an exploitation film.
The story is this: William Devane comes home from a P.O.W. camp in Vietnam to find that his wife is engaged to someone else and his son doesn’t remember him. Then the city gives him some expensive gifts for his service, but that just attracts opportunistic criminals who murder his family and stick his hand in the garbage disposal. Since Devane’s character is already a few sandwiches short of a picnic after all he’s endured, he goes about opening a can of whipass with his now-hook hand, culminating in a final sequence that will make you want to stand up and cheer.
I’ve always liked Devane because of repeated viewings of Honky Tonk Freeway on HBO in the 80s, so I wasn’t that surprised when I saw him nail the big dramatic scene between him and his son early in the film; I was surprised to see it in this type of movie because it was emotional but not maudlin. There are some great lines later in the movie, such as when Devane hears a song on the radio and says, “I remember this song from when I was alive,” meaning from before his capture. I probably shouldn’t have underestimated the writing since this was penned by Paul Schrader. The best part of the movie though, and this is no disrespect to any of the other actors, is Tommy Lee Jones as Devane’s friend from the P.O.W. camp who helps him fight the final battle against the murderers. You can really see in him the solid leading action and drama guy he was shortly going to become.
Honestly, there isn’t a lot more to say, because Rolling Thunder is so straightforward and nearly devoid of WTF. See this movie, if you haven’t yet. Look out for the guy who plays Roscoe on The Dukes of Hazzard saying “motherfucker,” cause lots of people seem to get a kick out of that. Also, please tell me in the comments all about the education I need to get regarding other B exploitation flicks that are better than the standard drive-in picture, cause I admit I know nothing.